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A Brief History of Cozumel, Mexico

By Tom Seest

What Is the History of Cozumel, Mexico?

If you are a history buff, Cozumel may just be the place for you! Whether you want to learn about the pirates or the Mayan temples, Cozumel has a history to keep you interested and entertained. Read on to learn more about this Caribbean island. You’ll be glad you did.

This photo was taken by Vlada Karpovich and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-boat-on-river-near-brown-concrete-building-4449431/.
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Is El Cedral Central in Cozumel History?

The quaint village of El Cedral in Cozumel, Mexican history is the site of one of the island’s biggest festivals, the El Cedral feast. In 1847, eighteen families of indigenous Christians fled to the island and settled in El Cedral. Bringing with them a small wooden cross, they founded a town next to an ancient Mayan temple. Today, descendants of these people serve as mayordomos of the temple and caretas (guardians).

Originally the island’s capital, El Cedral is now a small, quaint village. Its Spanish conquerors tore down many of the island’s ancient temples. However, today it’s a popular tourist attraction and a must-see for history lovers.

The Mayan civilization left a unique cultural legacy in Cozumel. One of the oldest Mayan structures in the area was the El Cedral temple. Though much of the temple was destroyed by the Spanish, there are still small ruins that are hidden in the foliage. If you’d like to visit these ruins, you’ll need to hire a guide to help you find them. In addition to the ruins, there’s a modern-era stucco church right next to the old Mayan ruin. Inside, you can see crosses shrouded in lace.

The Mayan’s presence in the Cozumel region dates back more than 500 years. When the Spaniards arrived, 20,000 Maya inhabited the island. During this time, they were frightened of the Spanish crown and found Cozumel a good hideout for themselves and their ships. Eventually, the surviving inhabitants migrated to the mainland.

This photo was taken by Vlada Karpovich and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-boat-on-dock-near-green-trees-4449435/.
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Are Mayan Temples Part of Cozumel, Mexico History?

Cozumel is one of the largest islands in Mexico and is only an hour away from Cancun. The Mayan people of this island cultivated this area for its fertility and were very peaceful.

The original name of the island was Tantum Cuzamil, which means “flat rock where swallows gather.” The island was used as a place of worship for the goddess Ixchel.

Visitors can explore the ruins of a Mayan city by visiting the Mayan temples of Cozumel. This place is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was an important site for the Mayan women, and their fertility goddess Ixchel. The site is made up of nine Mayan temples that are carved into the limestone and sit on the edge of a lush jungle. You can swim in the water surrounding these temples and admire the beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

If you have time, you should also check out the ruins of Tulum on the mainland of Mexico. These ruins are surrounded by thick jungle, and covered in grass and moss. Tulum was an important stopover city in the Mayan Empire and is the largest Mayan site in the Yucatan Peninsula. The ruins include the Temple of the Masks and the 27 Steps.

This photo was taken by Matthias Zomer and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-white-shirt-doing-skateboard-trick-89502/.
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Are Pirates Part of Cozumel, Mexico History?

In the early 17th century, pirates used Cozumel as a base of operations. American pirate Jean Lafitte made his home on the island. The island was abandoned in 1768 and did not repopulate until 1848 when settlers came from the mainland to seek refuge on Cozumel. The Caste War began as a revolt by Mayas against the Spanish, but white settlers eventually dominated the island and repopulated it.

In the early 1500s, Cozumel had a population of 40,000. However, Spanish explorers brought smallpox and destroyed many of the island’s Mayan temples. In 1519, the island’s population dwindled to less than thirty people. By 1600, the island had essentially been abandoned. In the 17th century, pirates discovered the island and made it their home. In the 1600s, the Caribbean shipping lanes were crowded with cargo ships. Many of these ships carried commodities and supplies to newly established towns. Many pirates visited Cozumel, which served as a prime base of operations. Cozumel is also believed to have been the site of many buried treasures.

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Is the Mayan Goddess of Fertility Part of Cozumel History?

Mayan mythology has long associated Cozumel with the Mayan goddess of fertility, Ixchel. Her name translates to “rainbow woman,” and her role is closely linked to childbirth and midwifery. She is also linked to the moon, as the moon’s cycle helps determine when to harvest crops. She is most venerated during the month of Zip, which is from late August to mid-September.

The Mayan Goddess of Fertility, Ixchel, ruled over a cluster of islands around the Caribbean coast and was particularly venerated in Cozumel, where many temples were built to honor her. She was so revered in the early Maya world that the Spanish dubbed one of them Isla Mujeres, a reference to her presence on other islands. In addition to her temples on Cozumel, her ruins on Ixchel’s island were once home to a community of women who would host pilgrims and assist in veneration.

During the month of Zip, the Mayan culture celebrates the goddess Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility. The island also hosts several shrines to her, including the El Pueblo del Maiz, a place where women would make pilgrimages to seek fertility and joy. Archaeologists have discovered several small dolls that women once offered to Ixchel to receive her fertility blessings.

This photo was taken by George Becker and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/parked-bikes-under-building-in-grayscale-photography-137625/.
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Is Hernan Cortes Part of Cozumel History?

The first time you hear of Cozumel, you might immediately think of Hernan Cortes, a Spanish explorer. Cortes was a second cousin of Francisco Pizarro, who later conquered the Inca civilization in modern-day Peru. He was an important participant in the conquest of Mexico. In his letters to King Charles V of Spain, Cortes does not mention the “god worship” incident.

The Spanish sent expeditions to the Gulf of Mexico in the 1500s, and they found the Aztecs. The Spanish, led by Hernan Cortes, gathered five hundred men and women to fight for them. They settled in the coastal city of Cholula, the second-largest city in Mesoamerica, and added a new god to the pantheon.

Cortes was a successful commander. He was allied with native people and used a native woman, Dona Marina, as an interpreter. She later bore Cortes’ first son. He also defeated Cuban emissaries. His expeditions proved successful, and he used extra troops as reinforcements. After the war, Cortes wrote letters to the Spanish king, requesting recognition for his victories. His efforts paid off, and Cortes was awarded the title of Marques del Valle de Oaxaca. He died of natural causes in Castilleja de la Cuesta.

Before Cortes arrived on the island, there were 20,000 Maya people living on the island. But Cortes and his crew accidentally brought with them smallpox, which had never existed in America before. And as time went by, the island was prone to pirate attacks. This made Cozumel an increasingly dangerous place to live. Eventually, surviving residents moved to the mainland.

This photo was taken by George Becker and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-two-men-riding-bike-beside-building-137641/.
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Was Cozumel a Pirates’ Base of Operations?

In the 17th century, Cozumel was a base of operations for pirates. The most famous pirate to use Cozumel as his home base was Jean Lafitte. It wasn’t until 1848 that Cozumel was repopulated. The island had attracted settlers from mainland Mexico during the Caste War. The Mayas had instigated the war to avenge Spanish wrongs, but the white settlers eventually reclaimed the island. When the Spanish first arrived, 20,000 Maya inhabited the island. They were forced to move to the mainland after a member of the Cortes’ crew contracted smallpox. Smallpox had not been discovered in America before that time. In the 16th century, pirates began to attack Cozumel. As a result, the island became increasingly dangerous. The remaining inhabitants left the island.

There are two primary theories about Cozumel’s role as a pirate’s base of operations. One is that it was a popular rendezvous for buccaneers. The pirates mostly avoided the Yucatan channel and instead targeted the east and west coasts. In this way, Cozumel was a great place for a base of operations. In addition to being a popular base of operations, it was also the location of many buried treasures.

This photo was taken by Alexandre Perotto and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-beach-cruiser-bike-beside-the-red-wooden-door-outside-165534/.

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